The alarming fact that as many as nearly a quarter of a million UK people may be suffering some form of hearing damage and over a million could be at future risk should be recognised as a cause for concern. The problems of noisy workplaces, sometimes to an excessive degree, are still with us in particular factories and light manufacturing workshops, and are the reason industrial deafness persists in the post-industrial age.
Common conditions experienced as a form of noise induced hearing loss by workers can be either temporary or permanent, although the former condition may lead to the latter and there could be a related link from minor hearing problems to complete hearing loss. Tinnitus, or the sound of ‘ringing’ or ‘whistling’ in the ears, is another complaint that may preface a long term and more serious condition.
It is important to be able to distinguish between the two conditions, in order to take prompt and appropriate remedial action, especially with respect to seeking advice for initiating a hearing compensation claim.
Temporary Hearing Loss: Also can be referred to as a ‘temporary threshold shift’, the majority of which, will almost certainly occur during the first two hours of exposure to a noise level above 75 or 80 dB and will not deteriorate, subsequently.
With temporary hearing loss, all sound seems muffled or dull but after a short period, which could be up to 14 hours, in a relatively quiet environment, hearing will return to normal.
However, if hearing is not allowed to recover fully before experiencing further excessive noise levels, or there is continued exposure to noise, which repeatedly causes temporary hearing loss over months or even years, recovery may not happen. The temporary damage becomes irreversible and develops into permanent hearing loss.
Permanent Hearing Loss: Sometimes described as a ‘permanent threshold shift’, this usually denotes a gradual change that takes place, with the maximum hearing loss occurring within the first ten years of noise exposure.
The hair cells deteriorate within the inner ear and are not replaced, with a consequential loss to hearing some frequencies. One of the earliest frequencies to be lost is sensitivity to hearing women and children’s voices, and is usually considered as the first signs of permanent hearing loss. Unfortunately, already at this stage, when first noticed, the damage has already occurred and cannot be reversed.
Being alert to high noisy environments, such as the workplace, and averting possible hearing problems is critical. In circumstances where noise levels are likely to be experienced as excessive, ear plugs or ear defenders must be worn and adjusted for full protection.